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GWSS 3590: Environmental Disparities and Sustainability Wins U-Spatial Mapping Competition

May 31, 2017

Mapping for Justice: Air Emissions Impacts on Vulnerable Minneapolis Communities

This project is a collective effort by thirty undergraduate students in GWSS 3590: Environmental Disparities & Sustainability in conjunction with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Working in teams, students were introduced spring semester to the process of digital mapping—a key method of information collection and dissemination in the environmental justice (EJ) movementby geographic information system (GIS) graduate student Frank Wagner. They were assigned one of twelve Minneapolis industries with whom the MPCA is working to reduce the adverse impacts of their air emissions on surrounding communities. 
 
Within 1-mile buffer zones surrounding their facilities, students learned how to apply relevant demographics layers (e.g. race, class, education, age, and language), as well as several key features pertinent to the application of environmental justice regulations, policies, and outreach, such as: 2015 emissions levels; nearby sites of toxicity; vulnerable institutions (e.g. hospitals, daycares, schools, and nursing homes); significant health burdens; neighborhood EJ organizations; key media contacts; relevant land use details (e.g., community gardens, industries, parks, and bike paths); and elected officials' contact information plus past/current EJ initiatives.
 
The maps vary according to the contextualized research each team performed; strengths and weaknesses were evaluated in class as a point of comparative learning and each student submitted a written analysis of their map for their final course assignment. All of the maps will be turned over to the MPCA, Minneapolis City Council, and participating businesses for future regulatory, policy-making, and educational purposes. In this way, it is our hope that the project lends itself far beyond the confines of our classroom or the space of a semester, and toward effecting lasting change in our city.

The class unanimously voted to donate their prize money to Tamales y Bicicletas, with whom we had an impactful toxic bike tour on Earth Day this spring. The event itself took an immense amount of coordination with the executive director, José Luis Villaseñor Rangel, Haley Kimmet at UMN's Disability Resource Center, the Courage Kenny Institute, and Tina Cho with Nice Ride Minnesota. 

I'm deeply proud of my students (pictured in the above group photo on Earth Day with Tamales y Bicicletas) and their hard work, which was reviewed on our final day of class by MPCA environmental justice coordinators Ned Brooks and Karen Solas. With more courses and projects like this, GWSS can become a cutting edge site for environmental justice scholarship and activism.  

 – Dr. Michelle Garvey, GWSS instructor and Institute on the Environment educator fellow

Image showing some of the maps created by students in the Environmental Disparities and Sustainability  course